‘Mission Marcy’: Dogs have feelings too!

Scientific proof, as any good politician knows, is very helpful to any successful campaign.  How kind then of boffins in Hungary to make a scientific discovery about dogs’ emotions just as I’m campaigning for ‘Mission Marcy’?

Regular readers will know that my husband and I have a schnauzer named Hank.  Lee named him after a character from the TV show Californication.  He’d not been with us long when my husband floated the idea that maybe Hank should have a Marcy (another character from the series) to keep him company.  Well, of course, that light-hearted mention is all a girl needs.  Like a dog with a bone (excuse the pun) I took the idea of Marcy and wouldn’t let it go until persuasion had conjured her into a reality.

Conjuring up Marcy!

Conjuring up Marcy!

As if on cue, enter scientist Attila Andics.  For background – his team were so determined to prove their canine emotion theory, that they first had to spend time training eleven dogs to lie motionless in an MRI scanner long enough for them to be able to record their canine brain response.   That’s dedication for you.

What they wanted to show was that our furry friends have some kind of emotional response to vocal sounds.  They played noises to them ranging from barking and whining to crying and laughing.  Then they compared them to how a human reacts to the same sounds.  What they found was that doggy brains respond in vey similar ways to humans’ when they hear happy sounds or sad sounds.  The science boffins concluded that humans share a very similar social environment and claim it explains why vocal communication between the two species is so relevant.  In other words, (as we’ve always believed but never known for sure) dogs have feelings too!

Best buddies!

Best buddies!

Why is this so important to ‘Mission Marcy’?  Well, from being a cute squeaking bundle of puppy fluffiness, Hank fast progressed to adolescence.  His voice broke. And he become an enthusiastic vocal communicator when he felt the need.  One of his favourite one-sided conversations, which started recurring whenever we left him on his own at home, was the howl of a lone wolf.   Well, on my (loose!) interpretation of the scientific evidence, I think I can safely say that this was Hank telling us he didn’t want his ‘pack’ to leave him on his own.  Ok, it may be a little far-fetched to translate ‘dogs brains react to vocal sounds like humans’ as ‘dogs can talk’.  But it served my purpose perfectly.

 

Playtime!

Playtime!

So, thank you Attila Andics and your crew, we now have double schnauzer trouble!  Marcy has settled in nicely and Hank is her best buddy.  There are twice the number of odd socks being stolen from the wash basket, twice the beggars for dinner scraps… and, as for taking the pair of them for walks on their extending leads, well that mostly ends up as a bizarre canine twist on maypole dancing.

The Maypole Dance

But they make each other very happy.  They told me so themselves. 😉  Mission accomplished….

 

Love is… wearing onesies this Valentine’s!

It’s February.  It’s Valentine’s. For singletons, Cupid is busy taking his aim and for those content in coupledom, it’s meant to be a chance to remind one other of our undying love. 

However, thanks to what appears to have been appalling foresight on my part, Valentine’s is a bit of a non-starter for me.  It all begins with having a wedding anniversary on the 1st January which, it turns out, is much is the same as having a birthday anywhere near 25th December.  It falls hot on the heels of a big Christmas spend-up, so anniversary gifts are all too easily abandoned.  And with New Year hang-overs also having their say, candlelit dinners are also a dead end.  Trouble is, by the time Valentine’s comes around, the ‘anniversary-which-wasn’t-really-one’ is forgotten about by both of us.  The domino effect being that we don’t celebrate Valentine’s either because ‘we’ve only recently had our anniversary’….and to think I thought the best bonus to a wedding on the 1st January was that neither of us would ever forget an all-important date!

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Pass the Parcel. Pros & cons of ‘regifting’.

New Year.  Traditionally, of course, a time for resolutions.  An opportunity to reshape our waistlines, recycle trees, cards and wrapping paper … and regift those unwanted presents.  

Come on now.  Don’t try to pretend you’ve never done it.  We’ve all let life overtake us and been caught unprepared for a friend’s birthday haven’t we?  When a visit to the shops is not an option time will allow, a visit to the cupboard of miscellanea where you keep all those presents from people that you will never use, is what comes to your rescue. Otherwise, the items would go to waste and you’d also look like a bad friend who forgot a birthday.  So, surely everyone’s a winner?

Or maybe you’re certain you have the perfect gift for your friend in that cupboard.  In fact, they’ve even mentioned it to you that it’s on their wish list.  The only reason you don’t use it, is because you received two from different well-wishers.   Then it’s definitely ok to ‘pass the parcel’ so to speak.  Am I right?

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‘Tis the season to be merry. What makes your Christmas a tradition?

You can also read my blog in Cardiff Life magazine monthly.

With my October birthday, Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ night all duly celebrated, it’s finally time to look forward to Christmas.  I have made it my tradition to wait until December 1st before I allow myself to begin seasonal preparations.  This is no doubt why, each year, I am consumed by a panic of online ordering and lost in a clutter of wrapping, bows and gift cards whilst clambering on various furniture pinning mistletoe and balancing angels.

But, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without our traditions to uphold and too little time to organise them all would it?  And talking to my husband made me realise that the magical thing about everyone’s festivities is that we all celebrate with slightly different quirks.  Those unique customs that merge and evolve with every marriage created and each new family formed.

Merry Christmas! Our REAL tree.

Merry Christmas! Our REAL tree.

Here’s my top ten from growing up in the Benfield household – which I hope will have an influence on many a Byrne Christmas to come.  Some you will no doubt share, some you probably won’t! But that’s what makes them special:

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Pen to paper: letter writing in a digital age

You can also read my columns in Cardiff Life Magazine every month. 

Each year when the kids return to school in the autumn sporting the latest funky fashions in pencil cases, folders, pads and pens I am a just a little envious of their new stash.  So, I was pleasantly surprised to find when browsing Cardiff Life mag last month, a fab selection of fashionable stationary for us adults too (and slightly more sophisticated than Bob the Builder of course!).  A colourful double page spread dedicated to pretty post-its and pens, neon satchels and even a good old paperweight.  I was reassured to see that even in a digital revolution, there is still some care for the practice of putting pen to paper.

After all, it’s that time of year when we all start to consider whether or not to buy multiple boxes of generic seasonal greetings cards, spend several hours writing each one and then a little longer sticking down the envelopes.  Oh, and then there’s an evening or two leafing through the address book only to discover half of those we have in there, are out of date.  And so being forced to revert back to texts and emails just to make sure the festive lengths we’ve gone to aren’t just returned to sender.

For all the bother it might involve, I am actually a big fan of the annual Christmas card ‘faff’.  It’s precisely the fact that someone has gone to that bother that makes it special when it lands on your mat.   I’m an even bigger fan of people actually bothering to write something inside that amounts to more than just a sign-off.  And thank goodness I’m not alone.  A quick unscientific poll (via Twitter) suggests a good percentage of you are still slaves to the Christmas card effort and many of you go so far as to include a note as well – or perhaps my followers have all just bought shares in Royal Mail?

Either way, despite these Christmas exertions, the hand-written traditional letter is becoming a dying art at most other times of the year.  It’s a far cry from when I was a child and the international pen pal network thrived.  Whilst my bundles of mail may now be stuffed gathering dust in a drawer at my mum’s, I still find it comforting to know they’re there and form part of the record of my childhood.

Me & hubby: accustomed to long-distance love in a digital age.

Me & hubby: accustomed to long-distance love in a digital age.

These days, even when I found myself in a long distance marriage when my husband moved to play his club rugby in France, it was Skype, Watts App, text and email that became our communications of convenience, rather than cards and letters.  In fact, the last time I can remember writing him a letter was when I sneaked 3 envelopes in his kit as he left for the World Cup in New Zealand.  They came with instructions to read them as the tour progressed with the hope I might provide a little love, motivation and inspiration with my carefully scribed words.  Well, he found them at the airport and opened all of them on the flight out!  So, it’s fair to say perhaps not everyone shares my literary sentimentality…

Yours Sincerely

Mrs Andrea Byrne

Encs. Christmas greetings in advance!

 

 

 

 

Appreciating Autumn: why the Christmas countdown needs to wait its turn ….

Read my columns each month in Cardiff Life Magazine

Autumn is my favourite season.  It is the beautiful season.  It is the season blessed with the most indulgent of colour schemes.  However, it is also fated as the season before the ‘jolly’ one and our anticipation for snow, sleighs and snuggling by the fire in motif Christmas jumpers and big woolly socks more often than not succeeds in upstaging the months that precede it. 

The writer George Eliot had the right idea when she declared autumn ‘delicious’ and said ‘my very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.’  Boy, they knew how to express themselves in the nineteenth century, didn’t they?

What has brought on this sudden seasonal sales pitch, I hear you ask?  No, I have not been visited by Vertumnus (he’s the Roman God of seasons in case you hadn’t googled mythology recently).  Rather, I’ve been plagued by many a social media comment ushering in Santa long before – in my opinion – his scripted entry.  One of my friends thought it necessary to mark the 100-day countdown and another to post their first purchase of mince pies (you know exactly who you are!).  The latter not a difficult feat of course, when there are already several festive aisles creeping into most of our supermarkets/garden centres/department stores…

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Family & Friends in the Auvergne

Hi there, this blog update can also be read at Hello! Magazine Online! If you haven’t already caught up with it there, then here is the latest from France ….!

Bonjour from me, Lee and little Hank from Clermont-Ferrand in central France. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

Lee has made his way to the Pyrenees for a pre-season training.  A week of mountaineering, commando training, zip wires … oh and a couple of rugby matches thrown in too for good measure.

Lee pre-season training army-style!

Lee pre-season training army-style!

In his absence, I’ve been welcoming some visitors from the UK and attempting to give them a taste of the Auvergne. Although, as I’m still discovering myself, it’s been more the idiot’s guide than the Lonely Planet!

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Channel hopping: From the news to ‘la vie en France’.

After 18 years working, 14 in journalism and 9 in ITV, I am for the first time in my life taking a break. Enrolling on a short term contract as a housewife. There it is in black and white. Although until I’ve started my new job, it will not really seem true.
You may not be so surprised to read that the primary reason for vacating the news anchor hot seat for 6 months was not so much a desire to bake cakes (at which I’m useless) or throw Tupperware parties (if they even exist now).  It was a more a decision motivated by the importance of nurturing the personal and the professional in equal measure.
We spend so much of our early careers competitively chasing ambitions sometimes it’s all too easy to find ourselves taking the most important things in life for granted.

Cheerleading Duties: Dublin, dogs, dentistry and the black stuff.

As regular readers will know, when I’m not in the news hot seat in Cardiff or London, I’m usually heading to France to tend to my long distance marriage!  Hubby Lee plays his club rugby there, so I’m no stranger to an airport terminal and I take very seriously my other full-time job of cheerleader wife.  This month has proved exceptional for journeys in the name of Team Byrne and the oval-shaped ball.

The Clermont Auvergne Wives' supporters club on the road in Dublin.

The Clermont Auvergne Wives’ supporters club on the road in Dublin.  All smiles before kick off.

The stage was set for a Dublin Heineken Cup final for my husband’s team.  Opponents Toulon were always going to be tough and I knew it was time to strap in for a turbulent ride. The game itself provided joy (when Clermont went over the line twice), fear (when Toulon did) and ultimately sheer disappointment.  After a match dominated by Lee’s team, suddenly the opposition managed to turn it around and it was them – not the favourites – who took the championship.  And by just one point.  Needless to say, watching my husband’s cup ambitions slip away was excruciating.

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Spring Awakening! After the longest winter, it’s going to be the hardest haul from hibernation.

 Yes, it may be May.  But the weather has taken a while to get the message.

The start of last month was the coldest on record since the 60s; it’s only been a matter of weeks since I last reported severe snow in Wales; and it’s fair to say most of us are hardly out of overcoats and thick tights.  Winter has so hogged the limelight this year, that Spring has barely yet sneaked a turn on the seasonal stage and Summer is still somewhere in the wings, learning its lines.

It hasn’t always been so shy of attention.  Unless my memories are belied by nostalgia, I’m sure I remember long, hot adolescent summer times played out to the soundtrack of Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.  So why has balmy Britain retreated to the shadows?  Well, science is working on that.  Recently, a hardy ITV news crew visited a small research station in the Arctic.  There they spoke to experts who believe that rapid melting of the ice may be responsible.  A smaller temperature difference between the Arctic and us, means a slower jet stream and longer spells of colder temperatures here.

The result: weirder winters and a nation deficient in Vitamin D.  With reserves in short supply, we’ve all been in extended hibernation until things warm up a degree or two.

Tortoises, perhaps, can teach us a thing or two about this.   Continue reading